I feel like I have seen as much of Scotland as is possible in one weekend, and yet I am left with an even stronger desire to return one day. There are aspects of the countryside that are strikingly similar to the Minnesota Northwoods, but with a Scottish twist – the trees are more knotted, the flowers more jagged. It felt like home and a different planet at the same time.
We really tried to squeeze as much as possible into this trip. We arrived Thursday night in Glasgow a little too late to actually get into any museums, but still early enough that dusk lit up the outline of the University of Glasgow where it sits on a high hill overlooking the city. The university is contained mostly in one beautiful building that strongly resembles Hogwarts, complete with mangled trees and looming towers. The sparse vegetation in its open courtyard only adds to the mysterious ambience, and I can imagine that going to school there must truly be a magical experience.
Friday morning we headed out to the train station with only a vague idea of how to get ourselves into the Highlands. The ticket teller sold us passes to a small town called Balloch at the very end of the line and in the middle of nowhere. The hour-long train ride took us past vast pastures that were dotted with tiny farmhouses and dropped us in a small, very empty town. We picked up a map of the park from a small tourist office across the street and made our way across a bridge, down to the edge of Loch Lomond, and through a secluded wood. The path emerged from the woods to a quaint country road lined with hedges and ancient fences. From the rugged road we could see across our hill to the hills mirrored on the other side of the lake. After spending only a few hours in a small fraction of the Scottish Highlands, I vowed that I would be back one day.
That night we took the train back to Glasgow for dinner before catching another train over to Edinburgh. We chose a delicious Indian restaurant downtown called Kama Sutra. I was a bit confused at first by the interesting images displayed at every table and in the bathrooms until Michael explained to me what the book Kama Sutra is actually about. Then it all made sense. The things you learn while abroad.
Shortly after checking into our hostel in Edinburgh we made a friend from France named Omar who took us out to a local pub and then to a chips stand, but we turned in early because we wanted to really explore the city the next day. We saw St. Giles’ Cathedral, the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and a wool factory/souvenir shop. One of the random stores we stopped in to avoid the heavy rain turned out to be Scotland’s most famous thrift shop, and I bought a pretty sweet old man sweater for five pounds. Best purchase ever.
We also found a small market inside an old church that had handmade knickknacks and cool band posters. In there I found a stand of albums from Scottish bands including some of my all-time favorites. Most of them are not very famous in America yet, so it was cool to see albums from Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, CHVRCHES and Biffy Clyro all being sold in the same place.
By the time we reached Edinburgh castle there were rivers of water up to our ankles streaming down the hill. My shoes were completely soaked and my coat no longer kept my shoulders dry, but the view of the city from the castle was breathtaking – even through the sheets of rain. I suppose that is the beauty of Scotland: if you can brave the rain, the view is more than worth it.